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Titus (long version)

Civil Works

Titus 3:1-8

Henry II of England was a magnificent king. His empire stretched from the Pyrenees to the Arctic Ocean. After 30 years of civil war he appeared on the English scene as one who was the champion of order and justice. He set the English monarchy on a secure financial setting. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for bringing into being the system of common law used by the English speaking peoples today. He lacked but one thing, that which Sherlock Holmes called “the gift of the master:” he didn’t know when to quit.

His right hand man in all this was one Thomas à Becket. He was the archdeacon of Canterbury and Chancellor of England, and Henry’s best friend. Henry was preparing for a long combat with the church. He thought he would place his own man in charge of the church when the Archbishop of Canterbury died. Instead, he gave the church the powerful leader it needed to face so strong a king.

The fight went on for years. Many of those years Thomas was in exile. When he returned, he told his congregation, “There are many martyrs in this church, and God will soon increase their number.” He was right. In a fit of rage the king asked if there was no one to rid him “of this upstart priest.” Four knights did the deed, killing Becket in the cathedral itself.

The act was fatal to Henry’s war on the church. The issues he raised would wait until Henry VIII, for Becket became a martyr for God’s cause, and what Henry thought he could overcome in life he found he could not overcome in death. The church retained its independence because of this, and the war between church and state continued.

War? There is always war between church and state, so long as the state proclaims itself to be the supreme authority. There can be only one supreme authority. If there are two claimants, then one, at least, must be wrong. The state in our day has raised again the claim of supreme authority. In our time three variants of the same philosophy – humanism – have raised the claim that man alone defines right and wrong.

  • Fascism (Nazism) – proclaimed the “leader principle.” “Man” determines right and wrong, in this case the “super man” – the genius who is above all normal moral controls.
  • Communism – proclaimed the moral authority of the “proletariat.” The “right people” would decide what is right and what is wrong.
  • American Liberalism – now proclaims that “people” decide what is right and wrong. Everyone is allowed to define it for himself, for that is the democratic way, isn’t it?

It is interesting to see how God handles these three “isms”. The first two are largely dead – because God let them run their course and suffer the consequences of their sin.[1] Is it too much to suppose that God will do likewise to America?[2]

Civil Behavior

Paul gives Titus some instruction for dealing with such a situation. In his time, too, the government felt itself supreme. Caesar was to be worshiped as a god. What is a Christian to do in such circumstances?

(Titus 3:1-8 NIV) Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, {2} to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. {3} At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. {4} But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, {5} he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, {6} whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, {7} so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. {8} This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Civil

The word “civil” comes from the same root as “civilization” – and both come from “civitas”, meaning “city.” It is our ability to get along in a city, elbow to elbow with others, that we are talking about here. Here we are, crowded together on this planet. We’re going to have to get along. In particular, we’re going to have to get along with the authorities. But how?

Relationship with authority

Just what should our relationship be?

  • We are to be subject to these authorities. That is to say, we are to be in submission to them. Indeed, our behavior is such that they will view their rule over us as a joy, not a burden.[3]
  • We are to be obedient to them. So often we are sure that we have a better idea than they do. To be sure, we often do. But the command of God is that we obey them. The only exception is when their commands directly conflict with those of God. The fact that we “know better” is not a justification for disobedience.
  • We are to be ready to do whatever is good. In short, we are not just to sit back and watch, but whenever there are good things to be done, we are to pitch in and help. This certainly applies in civic duties as well as all else.
Relationship to others

Of course, our relationship to non-Christians must be considered. I would ask you to look at these commands in the light of our dealing with those set in authority over us.

  • We are to “speak no evil” of them.[4] Indeed, why would a Christian do this? If the evil we speak is true, are we not usurping God’s judgment? And if it is false, are we not condemning ourselves?
  • We are to be peaceable. If you’re rubbing elbows with each other, this is surely a requirement. The world should know who are the children of the Prince of Peace.
  • We are to be considerate. Manners count! (If you want the best in contemporary example, consider your driving habits.)
  • We are to display true humility to all. Look at it this way: whenever you are in conflict with someone – especially someone you don’t know personally – isn’t it usually because someone’s pride has flared up?

All this sounds good – but Christians today just don’t do it. We need to examine why we should do this – and why we should not do it the world’s way.

Why?

Good question – I’m glad you asked.

We have no right to be judgmental

First, consider what we were like before we became Christians. Paul gives us a pretty good list here of the opposite kind of behavior:

  • Foolish – have you noticed how many people today have no sense? Those who can’t reason well? Those who can’t recognize logical fallacy? Christ enables us to see and think clearly.
  • Disobedient – if you call this “teenage rebellion,” you can make it a virtue. Or call it “civil disobedience,” which is now practically sacred in this country – if you do it for liberal causes.
  • Deceived – what did you think “New Age” spirituality is about? It’s not much more than the old deceptions repackaged.
  • Enslaved – perhaps our word today might be “addicted.” How many are addicted – to sex, drugs and rock and roll?

The result of all this? It’s hard for those deceived to see it, but easy for those in Christ. If this is your life, you will live in malice, hatred and envy.

  • Is there anything more characteristic of liberals than hatred? If you think not, consider: Labor unions must have management villains. Environmental movements must have big business villains. All of humanism must have something evil; must hate that something. Satan is not in their picture – so they have to have a substitute.
  • If there is hatred, there is malice – the intent to do harm. When an anti-abortionist killed a doctor in Los Angeles some years ago, Cardinal Mahoney expressed the Christian position very nicely: “I wish he had killed me instead. It would have done much more good.” But the assassination of evil businessmen – ah, that’s different.
  • Much of this comes from envy – the labor union worker knows that management is rich, and the only reason the worker does not have more is because of the wealth of the management.
To be Christian is to be a sinner

We must remember that there is only one qualification for becoming a Christian: you have to be a sinner first. Therefore, to say, “I am a Christian” is equivalent to saying, “I am a sinner.” This carries some implications:

  • It means that our salvation is not something we have accomplished by our own efforts. The credit should go to Jesus Christ (and often doesn’t.)
  • We know we are justified; we know we are righteous – but this is by grace. If we earned it, we would have the right to condemn. We didn’t; and we don’t.
  • Therefore, when we condemn anyone else – like our political leaders – we are denying that grace. We are saying that we are entitled to condemn. We could only say that if we were righteous of our own merit. We’re not.
What should we do with our leaders?

The Christian might well ask now, “Hey – what about Bill Clinton and his adultery? Shouldn’t we condemn that?” I can only reply that we should condemn the adultery – but not the adulterer. One might check John 8 on the subject.

Chrysostom – an ever useful writer – gives us an alternative:

  • We should “beseech” them – presenting our petitions to them in humility, asking for “redress of grievances.”
  • We must also pray for them. It sounds trite. Look at it this way: we should go before the throne of grace, on which sits the Lord of all creation, the Omnipotent One, and beg mercy and guidance for those who oppress us. Does that sound a little more difficult? (It is nothing more than asking God to treat the President just like you’d like Him to treat you.)
  • As possible, we should counsel and advise them. There is great merit in making it clear that Christians do have a point of view.

Why not the world’s way?

After all, lots of people have been successful taking the protest march to the streets. Why shouldn’t we fight fire with fire?

Things visible

Consider the things we can see:

  • First, are politics all that important? This world is not our home; we’re just passing through. Politics are temporary. The church is eternal.
  • Should we not consider the reputation of the church in public affairs? If we are just like every other political pressure group, how are we to attract those of the left wing to Christ? The church is different; it should be seen as such.
  • Finally, at the least we can respect the burden of office. It is no light thing to be the President of the United States. It is interesting that our tax law says much the same: a church may take a stand on moral issues – but not endorse a specific candidate.
Things invisible

In addition to things seen, we must consider those things of the heart which are not seen – except by God:

  • We are the “spiritually privileged.” Does that lessen our obligation to civil authority, or increase it? What should the reaction of a servant-leader be to that question?
  • Should we not “do unto others?” We ask God to treat us by separating sin and sinner, forgiving the sin and healing the sinner. If we ask this for ourselves, is it not hypocrisy to refuse to ask it for others? If we are not willing to forgive, will God forgive us?
  • Finally, there is a deep question: do we really trust God? Is not the reason that we are so concerned about politics that we do not trust God to act for his children? We are afraid of persecution, and therefore want to take matters into our own hands.
Ultimate resolution

Persecution? Yes, it will come to that – sooner or later. The state in our time claims to be supreme, taking what is God’s. Sooner or later, either our leaders repent or the persecution begins. But that is not the end of the matter.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1937, wrote during the Hitler era of Germany. His words are prophetic, however, and worth heeding in the last generation of humanism:

“The older the world grows, the more heated becomes the conflict between Christ and Antichrist, and the more thorough the efforts of the world to get rid of the Christians. Until now the world had always granted them a lodging-place by allowing them to work for their own food and clothing. But a world that has become one hundred per cent anti-Christian cannot allow them even this private sphere of work. The Christians are now forced to deny their Lord for every crumb of bread they need. Either they must flee from the world, or go to prison; there is no other alternative. When the Christian community has been deprived of its last inch of space on the earth, the end will be near.”[5]

Perhaps, like Kipling, we could say, “Now God be praised who has matched us with his hour.” Perhaps. Right now we are running from his hour, not towards it. May God grant that his church will endure her persecution nobly; may we, like Becket, know that the state is not supreme – and be willing to die for the one who is supreme.



[1] See Romans 1:24 for the principle behind this.

[2] One should note that this lesson was written just before the 2000 Presidential elections.

[3] Hebrews 13:17

[4] The New International translates this “slander.” This is inaccurate in that it implies we are not to speak evil of someone falsely. The original carries no such restriction.

[5] The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer, tr. R. H. Fuller, Collier, 1949, paperback. Pp299-300.

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